The Early Days of Rowing

The water-based summer communities on the islands off the east shore of Georgian Bay grew beginning late in the nineteenth century. No roads, simple cottages, no plumbing, no electricity, inhabited by academics, professionals, business people, free spirits and eccentrics, there for the entire summer.

In the earliest days, if you wanted to get somewhere or something, you rowed. The row boats were freighters, beamy with lots of freeboard made by a dozen different builders to be the nineteenth century nautical equivalent of the panel truck.

George Rossiter named his rowboat after W.J. Loudon, a pioneer of the Go Home Bay community. Loudon rowed miles at a time to pick up guests and the mail, to go fishing or on a picnic. Georgian Bay is open and deep. Storms come quickly and if you row in exposed water, you better be in a good hull. Loudon always felt safe in his rowboat and he could never understand why anyone would canoe when rowing was so much faster and safer.

The first powerboats were small inboards that held about as many people as a rowboat, and were often used to pull strings of rowboats. The day someone fitted a reliable internal combustion outboard engine marked a decline in rowing on Georgian Bay. Over the next fifty years, the rowboats sat in their boathouses, pulled out once a year for the regatta, the rot unnoticed until they were too far gone to fix. By the 1980’s, one could count on the fingers of one hand the number of serviceable rowboats in Go Home Bay. Nobody rowed. Few even knew how to row.

Early in his education, George Rossiter veered off the trail from the rest of us. He wanted to work on his own at something he enjoyed. So, out of his deep feelings for Georgian Bay and his instinctive respect for the designers of the boats which moved us around there, George became a marine architect.

Not long after his graduation, George heard of a very old rowboat sitting in a barn which was reputed to have been very fast. In the heyday of rowing, smaller lake rowers had different needs than those in Georgian Bay. Goods were hauled over roads along the shore of the lakes and rowboats carried nothing but the rower. These rowboats were designed to move light loads quickly, unlike their freighter cousins in the island communities in Georgian Bay.

The hull George found was a lot sleeker than the hulls used in Go Home Bay. Marooned in a barn, the boat took some imagination to see on the water. However, there was no mistaking the lines, perhaps a little short at 17’ but its fine entries and steeper deadrise angles, pleasing sheer line and moderate 46” beam suggested the perfect boat for light load rowing in open water. In George’s mind, this was the hull to resuscitate the sport. To stay fit, to enjoy the peace and quiet – this boat could offer a perfect way of achieving both.

Working from the mold an earlier designer had abandoned, George redesigned the hull above water, giving it a little more freeboard. He trued up the lines and built it out of fiberglass finished in gleaming white gelcoat. Out of respect for the heritage of the boat, he carried the lapped strakes of the original wood design over into the mold. To emphasize the elegant sheer line, he finished the strake under the gunwales in navy blue. He fitted the hull with teak gunwales and small decks fore and aft and mounted the aft seat on runners so that it could be moved amidships for a flat trim when rowed solo and to help children sit closer to the oarlocks and row comfortably. All that remained was to install teak foot rests on adjustable aluminum brackets set in a floor mounted runner, high quality bronze oarlocks and sturdy lines and the Loudon was born.

Introduced in 1990 and several refinements later, there are now over over 600 Loudons, all over North America and around the globe.



We’ll be at the Newport International Boat Show
September 14 – 17 and the  Norwalk Boat Show September 21 – 24 in Norwalk, CT